Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Business imperatives theme dominates Forrester's IT Forum conference opener

Forrester Research, the Cambridge, Mass. market research and analysis firm, kicked off its influential IT Forum conference today in Las Vegas with a keynote address by founder and Chairman George Colony on CEO success imperatives.

What the success imperatives do you have? Colony asked a series of CEOs. Here are the seven answers he got:

  • Getting, keeping and building the best people.
  • Engendering collaboration.
  • Reaching global markets.
  • Increasing profit.
  • Building a positive culture.
  • Customers, customers, customers
  • Driving innovation.

What was missing from the list? Colony asked the crowd. Technology ... it didn't make the top imperatives, based on CEO priorities. So to move from IT to business technology, there needs to be more connection between what the IT executives focus on to what the CEO focuses on.

Colony ended his introduction to the event with the pithy conclusion that technology is buried in business imperatives, rather than is an imperative itself.

Then Forrester executives and research directors Mike Gilpin and Eric Brown took to stage to welcome the 1,400 conference goers to the 14th annual IT Forum at the Sands Expo Center. They showed McKinsey research that shows that innovation is essential to companies and their growth.

They define innovation as top down and bottom up inside of companies. The cite the iPhone as an example of this innovation. And they cite Amazon's one-click buying process as another. Also, the one laptop per child intitiative and mobile networks in developing markets signal innovation.

Business innovation needs to pull this all together, say Gilpin and Brown.

Forrester VP and Principal Analyst Bobby Cameron implored the conference crowd not to wait to innovate. Businesses need innovation but IT is disconnected from innovation, Cameron said. Part of the goal of the conference is to rectify this.

"Companies say that technology is transformational, but they invest in technology to improve efficiency or reduce costs," said Cameron, based on his research. "They don't do what they say."

Innovation gets stalled. "Sludge in IT's engine stymies innovation," said Cameron. IT needs to stop hesitating, not just focus on costs, and move beyond "heavy processes" and grow more fleet.

Business innovation needs to transform processes, and boost the value and impact of the business on customers and partners, he said

There is confusion on what leads to innovation, said Cameron. "People aren't asking the right questions," he said, adding that investments are decoupled ineffectively from game-changing ideas.

"The innovation continuum" needs to extend across all aspects of business investments and thought leadership and new ideas. There needs to be a better way to join the two, and to get the money to act on good ideas, said Cameron.

Collaboration networks can help bring inventors and transformers into the innovation continuum, even if they exist outside of the company. IT shops need to play the role of brokers for innovation, he said, and to better play the roles of inventor, transformer, financier (to a lesser extent), and broker.

IT should build out innovation networks to become transformation agents. And these IT departments need to make it clear that they play this role.

It's up to the business to become adept at funding innovation, on an ongoing and sustained basis. Part of securing funding requries innovation context, innovation networks, and a process for ownership of funding, said Cameron. The result should be an "Innovation Pipeline," that has its own funding, is governed by an innovation team, and which takes in ideas generated from anywhere, said Cameron.

This pipeline runs in parallel to regular business activities. This allows for sustained innovation, year after year. More businesses need to become innovation leaders, said Cameron.

How to start? Build an innovation culture, by bringing in the right people. Make innovation part of the process, using portfolio management and analyzing the portfolio to identify where innovation already exists. Technologies also need to be in place to capture innovative ideas.